Cast: John Malkovic, Richard Coyle, Julian Sands et al
Pirates, a few years ago one could hardly swing a cutlass around without hitting some form of pirate related object. Of course we had Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp to thank for this. It was obvious that just about everyone tried to capitalize on the success, even the porn industry released a pirate movie, and why wouldn’t they? That is probably why it seems like both Crossbones and Black Sails are just a bit too late to catch the proverbial boat.
To review Crossbones by comparing it to Black Sails would be the easy thing to do, there are many things that could be commented on, from cast, setting, effects and the very similar narrative. One must consider that the two shows are on very different networks with different audiences and therefore very different possibilities.
Initially the plot of Crossbones revolves around Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle) an agent for the British crown posing as a physician. His task is to murder the legendary Blackbeard (John Malkovic) who is supposed to be dead. William Jagger (Julian Sands) refuses to believe this and creates a decoy to lure him out; the chronometer, a navigational tool designed to steer ships right in the treacherous waters of the Caribbean.
As planned the ship carrying the chronometer is boarded by pirates and Lowe ends up destroying the device, burning the encrypted design plans and poisoning the inventor. This causes him to be imprisoned by the pirates and taken to the island of New Providence where he comes face to face with Blackbeard, now calling himself the Commodore. To avoid being killed Lowe must promise to keep the inventor alive, but when this fails he memorizes the key to the cipher to stay valuable to Blackbeard.
The opportunity to carry out his initial mission presents itself, but must be halted when it seems like the enemies of Britain are benefitting from Blackbeard’s connections. At the same time the introduction of the beautiful Kate Balfour (Claire Foy) creates a possible love interest for Lowe. This is most interesting for viewers who might recognize Coyle and Foy as romantic partners in Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.
NBC really does try to push the envelope with Crossbones. They show as much blood, gore and cursing as they can all to be able to compete with networks like HBO and Showtime. Whether it will work or not only time will tell, but there actually might be a point in creating an alternative that the entire family can watch together. The part of the show that is hurt by these limitations is the reality aspect. So far Crossbones is a bit too clean and neat. When it comes to the pirate life the viewers need the stink and misery of it to leap through the screen, they need to feel it.
The choice of British actors like Richard Coyle is most satisfying, mostly known for comedic interpretations like Coupling and the aforementioned Going Postal he is more than capable of playing the serious role. It does seem that he was chosen for his ability to bring some comedy the role of Lowe. The creators of the show have also chosen to surround actors like Malkovic and Sands with their British counterparts. Even though both Malkovic and Sands are competent actors they need to be reined in by strong directors and supported by a strong cast. There have been far too many times when Malkovic has been allowed to run rampant across the screen without control, completely ruining the experience. A hint of it flashes here and there, but hopefully the transition to the small screen can do for him what the Following did for Kevin Bacon or Selfridge did for Jeremy Piven.
Crossbones has to make a decision what kind of show it wants to be. If it wants to contend with similar cable shows than it will fail, but if it chooses to be the best thriller/adventure show it can on the network it is on then we may have a success on our hands.